My name is Paul Toner and I am seeking reelection to a second term on the Cambridge City Council. I am a lifelong resident of Cambridge and live in the home of my great-grandfather with my wife, Susan Connelly, and our children Grace and Jack. I am running for City Council becaus I believe in public servic and government’s capacity to improve people’s lives. As a teacher. Lawyer, union and nonprofit leader, I have the skills and experience needed to engage diverse views, build consensus, and navigate the political process, to lead change.
What is your personal experience of housing in Cambridge and how has that affected your decision to run for city council? Do you rent or own? Have you ever lived in public or subsidized housing?
My perspective on housing and land-use is informed by my experience as a lifelong resident, former renter, homeowner, educator, and union leader. It has also been informed by my wife, Susan Connelly, who is a current member of the Cambridge, Housing Authority, former member of the zoning board, and as a 30 year career and developing, managing, and advocating for affordable housing across Massachusetts. Having lived in growing up in Cambridge of the last 50 years, I have been witness to the enormous changes in our city, resulting from the extension of the redline, elimination of rent control, and the development of East Cambridge, I Kendall Square and North Cambridge. The demographics of the city have changed, especially in terms of its socioeconomic composition. Which has had an impact on the character of the city as well. As a teacher is state and national union leader I have also observed impact on my own students and their families who live in public, and or affordable housing and on students across the state housing instability, and the stress that goes along with it negatively impact students and their academic progress and ability to engage in the opportunities provided through city services due to transiency. These experiences have given me an appreciation for the importance of maximizing, unlimited land and building more housing stock for residence of all income levels to provide greater housing stability but also they need to seek a balance with providing quality open space for residents to be able to access. Finally based on my wife’s work, I realize that there are many communities that are not carry their weight when it comes to providing more housing opportunities for families across the state, and we should be leading, but also cajoling our neighboring communities to live up to their housing obligations.
As City Councillor, what would be your top priorities to address our housing crisis?
I will continue to work with my fellow councillors, city staff, nonprofit and for profit developers to identify opportunities to purchase land, fund the Affordable Housing Trust, and remove unnecessary zoning and other barriers to building more housing across income levels from subsidized to market rate.
As Councillor, will you champion efforts to end exclusionary zoning in Cambridge by reforming the zoning code to allow, at minimum, four-story multi-family housing by right in all Cambridge neighborhoods?
Generally Yes. Although I do not agree with all of the statements in the preamble to your question, my answer is generally yes, I would consider supporting reforms the zoning code to allow, at minimum, four-story multi-family housing by right in all Cambridge neighborhoods. However, I would need more details before committing to a yes response.
In conjunction with direct support for affordable housing and inclusionary zoning requirements, do you believe that new market-rate housing development is a key pillar in making Cambridge an affordable city?
Yes. Yes, I do believe that new market-rate housing development is a key to making Cambridge more affordable, especially for the large percentage of young professionals and families who will not qualify for subsidies or inclusionary units, but simply do not earn enough to purchase a home or multi bedroom condominium at current market rates. I believe increasing the supply will help us lower rents and free up more units.
Do you believe Cambridge should go further to promote transit-oriented housing development, such as allowing greater height and density within walking distance of MBTA stations?
Yes. No further explanation needed.
Do you support the proposed Alewife overlay district?
Do you support also rezoning the Fresh Pond shopping center?
Yes. Yes, I support the proposed overlay district. I would also support quickly moving to have CDD work on a plan to rezone the Fresh Pond shopping center, especially since there are no current plans for the owner to sell the property.
Do you support the proposal to expand the Affordable Housing Overlay to allow more height for 100% affordable housing development in major squares (15 stories) and corridors (12 stories)?
No. I do not support the current proposal to expand the Affordable Housing Overlay to 15 stories in the squares and 12 stories in the corridors. I think the proposal was introduced in such a way that it has caused unnecessary division in our city before the original AHO was reviewed as promised. I want more community input but I personally could support 15 stories in Porter and Harvard Square, even higher in Central or Kendall. I do not support a blanket 12 stories on all of our corridors. I believe that in some areas that may be appropriate but on other stretches of our corridors it should be in reasonable proportion to the heights surrounding the proposed new AHO project.
Do you support further increasing city funding for affordable housing to 10% of the City budget?
No. I do not support increasing the affordable housing budget to 10% of the City Budget. The City has other needs and priorities and under our current budget we have substantial funding available for affordable housing. If new projects come forward that the city deems worthy funding we are currently able to take money out of our reserves to make the purchase and I have been informed that doing so involves less bureaucratic process. If we put it into the Affordable Housing Trust, we no longer have access to the funds if other priorities or exigencies occur. I would rather have the city remain nimble in being able to use its resources.
How can Cambridge better protect tenants against displacement?
To help prevent displacement, I believe the city should support and expand upon the recommendations in the mayors report. Education of tenants, streamlining and coordinating tenant services, increased funding for vouchers and providing access to legal counsel and mediation programs to tenants are all essential. In addition, we must ensure that there are adequate rent subsidies, especially during crisis situations like the pandemic.
ABC has repeatedly supported state legislation enabling cities to better protect tenants. Do you support such legislation?
If something like it passed, what kind of city tenant protections would you favor? Would you support any kind of rent stabilization, such as the petition from Mayor Wu, which would cap rent increases at a maximum of 10% while exempting new construction, along with requiring just cause for eviction?
As previously stated, I would support and expand upon the recommendations in the mayors report - Education of tenants, streamlining and coordinating tenant services, increased funding for vouchers and providing access to legal counsel and mediation programs to tenants are all essential. I support most of the tenant protections outlined in the legislation but I do not support the rent stabilization proposal. I think it will have the unintended effect of causing rents to go up rapidly prior to its implementation (I think that is already happening based on the mere suggestion that rent control may return) and I believe it will reduce the production of more housing stock.
Do you believe we have a climate obligation to pursue greater density city-wide and allow more people to live here?
Yes. No further explanation necessary
Do you favor an at-large system over a ward-based system?
Yes. I support the current at large system. In fact, I opposed and voted against the charter review ballot question as a voter because I believe our current City Manager form of government is better than a strong mayor system. In my opinion the problem with getting things done has more to do with the multitude of competing priorities that each Councillor has brought to every council meeting.
The City Council is currently considering NCD reforms which would increase diversity on boards and commissions, amplify the voices of renters, exempt affordable housing, and enforce term limits. Do you believe these bodies need reform generally?
Do you support the proposed NCD reforms specifically?
Generally Yes. I think these boards function the way they were designed to and have legal obligations that they must meet in rendering their decisions. I agree with some of the proposed reforms around increasing diverse representation on these boards, having two 5 year terms for a total of 10 years, etc.. I do not agree with completely removing any review or oversight by NCDs/Historical Commission.
Would you support combining the City’s housing functions in a new Housing Department headed by a new Assistant City Manager, or is there an alternative approach to organization / staffing you would support? How specifically would you hold the City Manager and city staff accountable for meeting housing goals?
I would support conducting an organizational review of CDD and creating a more streamlined department. I am not sure I would push for a new Assistant City Manager position. I think if there are real performance problems in the department that the City Manager should be evaluating his leadership team and making the necessary changes in leadership. I also believe the City Council and staff need to get clear on what the numeric goals are for subsidized, inclusionary, and market rate housing options.
Do you have anything else you’d like to highlight about your candidacy?
I am not seeking the ABC endorsement but wanted to share my responses with ABC. Although I agree with the majority of your priorities, I prefer not to seek your endorsement at this time. I want to have the freedom to make independent decisions based on what I believe is the proper course of action and not to feel obligated to vote based on receiving your endorsement.